The 2021 Reading List: February

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, and I’ve carried it through for 2021, I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku. Here’s as good a place as any to post what I’ve read to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

Back in 2020 I decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. I started putting an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand and limited the stack to five books, which seemed doable for the month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games jump the queue, but I typically tried to get through the pile in the order I stacked them. I also used this strategy to try and diversify my reading. The goal was for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally.

Here’s what was on the to-read stack in January!

The January 2021 to-read pile: Hungover by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, Mahu Surfer by Neil S. Plakcy, The Prairie Bridesmaid by Daria Salamon, and Savage Legion by Matt Wallace.

Savage Legion by Matt Wallace: I’ve been looking forward to this one since I first saw it in a catalogue. I was worried when I noticed points of view in present tense, typically I bounce off of books written in present rather than past tense. It worked for me with Savage Legion though. I loved every POV character, but especially Evie and Taru. Savage Legion felt so fresh and timely, and I think it’s destined to become a classic. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Wallace’s work!

The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler: This is a book I never thought I’d read, as I’m typically not one for self-help style books. The Dalai Lama’s big takeaway of compassion being important for happiness was interesting. I often didn’t care for Cutler’s framing of the Dalai Lama’s stories. I feel like my dual nature as someone who’s worked in customer service for years and been ground down by being mistreated by strangers and as an author who seeks to empathize with, and understand, people and why they do what they do led to a bit of whiplash reading the book. I’m certinly not going to become a Buddhist, and probably won’t read more of the Dalai Lama’s books, but I’m glad I read this, if only because it was a type of book I’ve never read before. Maybe The Art of Happiness is not what I should’ve been reading during the pandemic, or maybe exactly what I should be reading. Time will tell.

After finishing the January stack, here’s the pile I assembled for February:

The February 2021 to-read pile: Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite, City of Ghosts by J.H. Moncrieff, The Break by Katherena Vermette, Rings of Anubis by E. Catherine Tobler, and The Wave by Susan Casey.

Mage: The Hero Discovered by Matt Wagner: A graphic novel reread, and I’m looking forward to finishing the rest of the series for the first time since Wagner completed it recently. I love the rawness of Wagner’s early art here. It largely held up for me other than a couple cringey moments due to the age of the material, and those were fewer than usual. I’m still upset about the death of Edsel and Sean after all these years. The collected edition I read is packed with extras, including an “interlude” story that bridges the time between The Hero Discovered and The Hero Defined. I love the old wraparound Comico covers, and somehow the more modern reissue covers Wagner did for the series don’t work as well for me, but I’m glad they were all included. It’s weird reading this years after I became a writer and seeing how influential Wagner’s work has been on mine. I typically cite Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men run when I’m talking about comic influences on my prose, but I think I’ll have to start including Wagner’s Mage in my direct influences.

Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite: I first read Brite ages ago (don’t ask how long) in my first year of university when I picked up Lost Souls, which hit pretty hard back then in my early years of listening to industrial music and starting to explore some of goth culture. I’ve only spent a little bit of time working in restaurants (delivering pizza for my least favourite pizza place in my old home town, and bussing tables at a supposedly fine dining place) but there’s something about Brite’s culinary fiction that hits so true. I also love watching food shows. Love cooking. Love eating out (or did, pre-pandemic). I absolutely devoured this one, pun intended. I’m sure I’ll be adding the other volumes to my to-read stack soon.

Mage: The Hero Defined by Matt Wagner: I think this is my favourite era of Wagner’s art. And my favourite volume of the series from a story perspective. I love how he expanded his concepts from The Hero Discovered. I think this has the basis for being an excellent RPG. I’d probably use City of Mist to run the game if I ever got around to it. I do wish we saw more women among the avatars of power characters, but the witch sisters are pretty cool. The wait for The Hero Denied seemed interminable, but the final volume finally arrived, and I can’t wait to reread it with the series fresh in my brain.

One in the Hand by Rhonda Parrish: Not initially on my to-read pile, but I was lucky enough to receive an advanced digital copy of this one. I’m mostly used to Rhonda reading my work, as she’s edited several of my short stories over the years. This was a Norse myth influenced book set in Edmonton, so of course I loved it. Rhonda played with one of my favourite, usually unsung relationships in the myths. I really hope this will be a series.

City of Ghosts by J.H. Moncrieff: First book in the Ghost Writers series. I met Moncrieff and got to know her at a variety of conventions. This is my first run at one of her novel-length stories. I really enjoyed the relationship between Jackson and Kate, as well as Moncrieff’s take on how ghosts and mediums work. I see that book two features Kate as the protagonist, which I’m looking forward to.

The Break by Katherena Vermette: I know Katherena first as a poet, and I loved her debut, North End Love Songs. Her graphic novel collaboration with Scott Henderson, A Girl Called Echo, was also a fun read. I’ve hesitated reading this one, because I knew it would be heavy, but I never doubted it would be good. The Break was both heavier, and better than expected; an intergeneration family story of trauma and healing, every character was so well realized. I also appreciated that a family tree was included to be able to see the connections at a glance. The book has its trigger warnings displayed on the title page, if you’re concerned, but I highly recommend giving it a chance.

Rings of Anubis by E. Catherine Tobler: Steampunk is typically not my jam but I really enjoyed this late 1880s tale. A nice slow burn romance between Folley and Mallory, lots of mystery in what agents of Mistral do, and what is going on with the supernatural forces in the world. I’d definitely read more of these characters, and in this world.

Mage: The Hero Denied by Matt Wagner: My first reread of the final volume in the Mage trilogy. I originally read this in single issues as they released. Wagner collaborated with his son Brennan, who did the colours for this volume. Endings are hard. I know this well as someone who has had to find the right ending for a few books of his own (and had to end a trilogy). I think it was a fine ending for hero Kevin Matchstick, maybe one that didn’t particularly resonate with me, but worked for the character. Unfortunately, this was my least favourite iteration of Wagner’s art in the series, and I missed some of the larger worldbuilding that was introduced in The Hero Defined, but it made sense that Wagner tightened the focus back to Matchstick and his new family. I do hope Wagner returns to the world now that Kevin Matchstick has had his happy ending, even though I doubt that’ll happen.

The 2020 Reading List: February

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku. Here’s as good a place as any to post what I’ve read in 2020 to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

February:

Die on Your Feet by S.G. Wong: The first book in the Lola Starke mysteries. I blurbed the third book in the series, and it was really neat coming back to the ground level of the series with this excellent opening volume. I knew the gist of how the metaphysics of Wong’s Crescent City worked, but that definitely deepened reading Die on Your Feet. This is the kind of setting I’d love to run a pulp-noir RPG in. I’m looking forward to reading more Lola Starke.

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips: A standalone graphic novella in the Criminal ‘verse. I’ll read pretty much anything Brubaker and Phillips put out. They are consistently among my top comic teams regardless of the type of stories they’re trying to tell, but I sure have a soft spot for their Criminal books.

Dreams of Shreds & Tatters by Amanda Downum: I think I held off reading this one for as long as I did because I wanted to read The King in Yellow first, as the King plays a role in this book. I’m aware of The King in Yellow largely through RPGs and stories riffing on the work, but never got around to the original Robert W. Chambers piece. I still haven’t done that, and maybe there’d have been more in this book that jumped out at me if I had, but I enjoyed the story well-enough anyway even if I wasn’t catching all the references. I really liked Downum’s prose, which felt a little like reading a dream, entirely appropriate for this book.

The New Fantasmagoriana II edited by Keith Cadieux: Stories by Adam Petrash, Jess Landry, J.H. Moncrieff, David Demchuk. All four writers stayed in Winnipeg’s supposedly haunted Dalnavert Museum and wrote the first drafts of their stories overnight. I really enjoyed each story, and I think Demchuk’s was the stand out for me. Cadieux says in the foreword that the writers had the same experience, and leads me to believe the only downside to reading all of the stories in a row is some of that sameness came into the book. There are Victorian mansions in each, and children play a role in each story. Definitely not a deal breaker though. And it’s my own fault really, all in a row is not how I typically read short story collections.

Spectaculars by Scratchpad Publishing: I backed this roleplaying game on Kickstarter and it arrived recently. It is awesome. I have a soft spot for superhero RPGs, and I cannot wait to get this to the table, although I’m not sure if I want to play it or run it more. The box set is huge, and full of game trays, tokens, and power cards in addition to the rule book and setting book. I haven’t seen a game that emulates comic books as well as this one does, I hope the first read impression holds when I actually start playing it.

Night’s Dominion Volume 3 by Ted Naifeh: The concluding volume of a high fantasy graphic novel series that I’m definitely sad to see go, but what a great ending. Now that the series is done I’m looking forward to reading it in its entirety in a short span and seeing how that changes things.

Here’s what I read in January.